The first time Bob Braun wrote a story that made something happen—long before he used his widely read Star-Ledger newspaper column to write about people who needed, and then sometimes got, help—he was a senior at Rutgers. He and his fellow journalism majors started a publication called Press Club Weekly that included a regular feature about Rutgers history, mostly harmless nuggets from the archives. Then they stumbled upon a name that had been dropped down the memory hole: Paul Robeson.

“We discovered he had been made into a nonentity by Rutgers,” says Braun RC’67 of the singer, actor, and All-American football player whose leftist politics had left him blacklisted and shunned. “You couldn’t find a mention or anything of Paul Robeson.”

They wrote story upon story, and joined the College Football Hall of Fame to try to get Robeson elected. “We nominated him and he got exactly one vote—ours.” But a cause was born. “Now, half of Rutgers is named for Paul Robeson.”

If you read the Star-Ledger, you have spent many breakfasts with Bob Braun’s bespectacled, tousled, square-jawed image looking up at you from the page. Until he wrote his farewell column in May, and left a shrinking paper for his new blog, Braun was a Ledger fixture for almost half a century: reporter, education editor, columnist.

An early lesson in the power of stories came when he was a boy in Elizabeth, New Jersey, growing up just blocks from the rambling blue Victorian where he has lived for 40 years. Every morning his mother sent him out to buy a staple as vital to their household as milk or bread. “I’d buy her a stack of papers,” he says. “I think if she had been born in a different century, she would have been a reporter.”

She was a dispatcher and bookkeeper for a cab company, his father an engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and they moved often, but never very far. His parents split up when he was 12; his stepfather was a truck driver and Teamsters shop steward. Braun and his wife, Lynda DC’68, met at 16, when he was a student at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark and she was at Sacred Heart High School in Elizabeth. “The only public school I ever went to was Rutgers,” he says.

Some honest reporting helped land him a job at the Star-Ledger when he was just 18. He was working in a drugstore and living at home the summer after his freshman year when he saw his landlord arguing with a young woman outside his family’s Orchard Street apartment after their cars had collided. The landlord was yelling, the woman crying. “I told the cop to look at the car,” Braun recalls, and he pointed to the rear window of the car that his landlord had backed out of the driveway. “The car was packed with stuff. He couldn’t see and he backed right into her. It was his fault.”

The woman turned out to be the daughter of a prominent rabbi, and once her grateful mother learned that Braun would much rather be working at a newspaper than a drugstore, a few calls on his behalf ended with him spending weekends visiting police stations in Essex County and phoning the news to the city desk. One Sunday he was assigned to cover an appearance by Sammy Davis Jr. at a South Orange fundraiser for the civil rights movement before making his final police rounds.

“The last stop that night was East Orange, and when I called in from there, an editor told me, ‘Kid, you got your first byline,’” he says. He missed class the next morning to drive to Newark to buy 20 copies of the five-star Essex edition, the only edition the story ran in, at a candy store on South Broad Street.

The bylines were steady for decades, and increasingly far-flung after 1995, when editor Jim Willse took over and shook up the Star-Ledger, making Braun a featured news columnist. But the stories that stick with him the longest are the ones that made something happen, such as the one about the grandchildren of Lillian Culbertson, who were homeless and living with her in a South Plainfield motel when Braun wrote about them. “It’s easy to take a story that’s sensational and then forget about the people in it, but he took the time to get to know us and maintain contact with us,” says Ashley Lyles, who along with her brother, Nick Culbertson, acquired mentors and benefactors after Braun’s columns. She graduated from Davidson College. Nick graduated from Harvard. (Braun attended both commencements.) “If it weren’t for that article, I wouldn’t be where I am,” she says. “Literally.”